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Syrian opposition rejects Russia talks as west frets over influence



A Syrian woman and her daughter in Al-Nashabiyah in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.  - 5205 - Syrian opposition rejects Russia talks as west frets over influence

Russia’s efforts to broker a Syrian peace deal outside the UN’s Geneva process stumbled on Wednesday after the official Syrian opposition said it would not attend talks planned for later this month.

Turkey also said it opposed an invitation to Syrian Kurds to attend Moscow’s “congress of Syrian national dialogue”, which aims to bring together 33 delegations in the Russian city of Sochi on 18 November. Moscow has said any groups that do not attend the conference will suffer as a consequence.

The initiative, at which discussion about a future constitution for Syria is on the agenda, appears to be a clear attempt to bypass the UN-brokered peace talks due to recommence in Geneva 10 days later.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, met Iran’s leaders in Tehran on Wednesday to push his Syrian plan.

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has accepted the process, believing the new constitution, likely to be based on an existing Russian draft, will entrench him in power ahead of any elections.

The Geneva process has been bogged down for over a year, largely over whether Assad’s departure should be a precondition for any talks on a political transition.

The military might of Moscow and Tehran in Syria has helped prop up Assad’s forces and turn the protracted conflict in his favour with a string of key battlefield victories.

Mohammad Alloush, a member of the Syrian opposition’s high negotiations committee (HNC), dismissed the Sochi conference as a “meeting between the regime and the regime”.

The HNC was surprised it had been mentioned in a list of groups invited to the Sochi and would “issue a statement with other parties setting out the general position rejecting this conference”, he said.

The Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, which is linked to the HNC, also said the Russian initiative was an attempt to circumvent “the international desire for political transition” in Syria.

“The coalition will not participate in any negotiations with the regime outside Geneva or without UN sponsorship,” an SNC spokesman said.

Vladimir Putin, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Tehran on Wednesday.  - 3143 - Syrian opposition rejects Russia talks as west frets over influence

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Vladimir Putin, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev in Tehran on Wednesday. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images

In a further sign of Russian attempts to marginalise the role of the United Nations in Syria, there were reports that Moscow would block the renewal of a UN resolution permitting cross-border aid to enter Syria, arguing all aid must be administered from Damascus.

Cross-border aid is seen as a lifeline for tens of thousands of people still trapped and starving inside Syria. The resolution needs to be renewed by the end of the year.

Western diplomats argue they have one last card left to play to prevent total Russian, or indeed Iranian control, over Syria’s future, and that is the cost of the country’s reconstruction.

“There are no spoils of victory in Syria, only rubble,” said one diplomat. The IMF has put the cost of rebuilding Syria at $200bn (£150bn) but no one knows who will fund reconstruction on this scale and on what terms.

The EU is due to stage a second Syria reconstruction conference early next year in Brussels, and still hopes to mesh western aid into the UN talks.

Increasingly marginalised in the civil war by Russia, Iran and Turkey, the EU’s offer of cash at least gives western governments some much needed leverage since they do not believe either Russia or Iran will cover the cost of reconstruction.

Britain and the US are the two countries most confident that dangling dollars can force the Syrian regime to make concessions they have so far refused to make on the battle field.

HR McMaster, Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said last month that “not a dollar goes to reconstruct anything that is under the control of this brutal regime”.

Britain’s outgoing special envoy for Syria, Gareth Bayley, wrote earlier this month that the west needed to hold firm to the position that it will only help with Syria’s reconstruction when comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition is firmly under way.

Much of the battered Syrian opposition feels the same, and has been lobbying Brussels not to offer aid without taking into account the fate of political detainees and a transition away from Assad.

theguardian

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kurdistan

Iraqi security arrest drug gang led by Governor of holiest Shia city’s son

- najaf son - Iraqi security arrest drug gang led by Governor of holiest Shia city’s son


ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi security on Sunday arrested a drug-trafficking gang in a southern suburb of Baghdad led by the son of the Governor of Najaf, one of the holiest cities in the world.

“The group had three members and was led by Jawad Luay al-Yasiri, the son of the Governor of Najaf,” a security source told Kurdistan 24.

The Baghdad Operations Command in a statement issued on Sunday night said a security force arrested the gang in the predominantly Shia Bayaa district, south of Iraq’s capital.

The gang was caught with a large amount of narcotics in their possession, according to the statement, without giving further details.

Activists posted pictures of six kilos of cannabis, 800 narcotic pills, forged identity cards, and weapons which were seized by Iraqi security.

The pictures show official access cards for the intelligence service, the Iraqi cabinet, the province of Najaf and other places, all in the name of Jawad Luay Jawad. One even designated him a Lieutenant.

Najaf Governor Luay al-Yasiri is a member of the Dawa Party led by former Iraqi Prime Minister and current Vice-President, Nouri al-Maliki, a prominent member of the State of Law coalition, and served as Director of Najaf Traffic Police for several years. The Najaf Governor holds the military rank of Colonel within the Interior Ministry.

Recently, the Governor launched a crackdown on unlicensed casinos and cafes and launched a campaign to spread the veil in the city where the shrine of Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin, is located.

“I express my keenness for the rule of law and the fight against crime in all its forms. Justice and the rule of law must apply to everyone without exception,” Luay said in a statement since his son’s arrest.

“I would like to express my surprise at the large and systematic media exaggeration and the timing of the coverage which coincided with the proceedings of the case. This indicates the existence of a political smear campaign against the Governor of the holy city of Najaf, so near to the upcoming legislative elections in May.”

The Governor of Najaf called on the Iraqi judicial authorities to handle his son’s case “with full impartiality, regardless of the identity of the accused and background as he is an Iraqi citizen accused under the rule of law and institutions.”

Najaf is a wealthy city known as the third holiest site for Shia Muslims, where millions, namely Iranians, travel to each year as part of their pilgrimage.  

The people of Iraq have repeatedly complained on social media networks that family members and relatives of Iraqi officials and party leaders flaunt the rule of law and have acted with impunity over the past 14 years since the fall of the authoritarian system.

Editing by Nadia Riva



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SOHR Reveals Latest Statistics of Casualties in Afrin

- 0687d493ba6ea9e690c5a0e84edb08cd L - SOHR Reveals Latest Statistics of Casualties in Afrin


The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights (SOHR) revealed the latest statistics of the casualties in Afrin.

According to SOHR report released on Monday, January 22th, the number of casualties has risen to 21 due to the Turkish bombardments on Afrin.

“War has started in Shingal, Edmani, Shadiya, Sorka,Hamam, Kurdo which are located in Afrin, among the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which is the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Tukish army.

The Media sources belonging to PKK pointed out that 7 civilians were found dead, and 11 others wounded under the devastated buildings in the village of Jilbar due to the Turkish attacks on Afrin.

Turkey on Saturday launched a new air and ground operation on Afrin, a Kurdish city in the northern Syria, under the name of “Olive Branch Operation”.
 
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to eliminate every single YPG fighter in Syria. Meanwhile, PKK had already given orders to have immediate reactions if the Turkish army attempts to attack Afrin.





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Turkey says campaign against Kurdish YPG in Afrin will be swift – Middle East

- 413711 - Turkey says campaign against Kurdish YPG in Afrin will be swift – Middle East


Turkish soldiers are seen near the town of Hassa on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

HASSA, Turkey – Turkey shelled targets in northern Syria on Monday and said its three-day-old operation against Kurdish YPG fighters who control the Afrin region would be completed swiftly.

Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies began their push to clear YPG fighters from the northwestern enclave on Saturday, opening a new front in Syria’s civil war despite calls for restraint from United States, which has armed the YPG.

YPG spokesman Birusk Hasaka said clashes between Kurdish and Turkey-backed forces persisted on the third day of the operation. He said Turkish shelling had hit civilian areas in the northeast of the Afrin region.

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organisation with ties to Kurdish militant separatists within Turkey, and it has been infuriated by US support for the fighters. Washington, which is backing the YPG in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, said on Sunday it was concerned about the situation.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to crush the YPG in Afrin and then target the Kurdish-held town of Manbij to the east, part of a much larger swath of northern Syria controlled by YPG-dominated forces.

That raises the prospect of protracted conflict between Turkey and its allied Free Syrian Army factions on one side and on the other the Kurdish YPG, who spearheaded the US-backed campaign to drive Islamic State out of its Syrian strongholds last year.

But Mehmet Simsek, Turkey’s deputy prime minister who oversees economic affairs in the government, played down the potential for a damaging and drawn-out military campaign.

“Our investors should be at ease, the impact will be limited, the operation will be brief and it will reduce the terror risk to Turkey in the period ahead,” Simsek said at a ceremony in Ankara.

TURKISH SHELLING

A Reuters cameraman near Hassa, across the border from Afrin, saw Turkish shelling on Monday morning. Dogan news agency said Turkish howitzers opened fire at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT) against YPG targets.

It said militia targets were also being destroyed by Turkish warplanes and multiple rocket launchers.

On Sunday a Turkish official said Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebel factions had captured a Kurdish village with no resistance and were clearing landmines. The YPG said it had repelled the Turkish forces.

Turkey’s military operation to drive back Islamic State and YPG fighters, which it launched in August 2016 and named “Euphrates Shield”, lasted seven months. So far there has been no indication of major gains on the ground by Turkey-backed forces in Afrin.





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